Myth Man's Greek Mythology



Hecate is the Greek goddess of the crossroads and is believed by some to be descended from the Titans. She was a Greek goddess with two quite distinct aspects to her personality - In the day she was supposed to have a benign influence on farming, but during the hours of night and darkness she was involved in witchcraft, ghosts and tombs.

Very like the vegetation goddess Demeter, Hecate combined fertility with death as a power of the earth, making her a feared and revered figure. Her most famous disciple is Medea, who married Jason after helping him get the Golden Fleece using magical spells and incantations. The powerful witch Circe, known as the seductress and tormentor of Odysseus, was another of Hecate's followers.

She is most often depicted as having three heads; one of a dog, one of a snake and one of a horse. She is usually seen with two ghost hounds that were said to serve her. The Athenians were particularly respectful towards her, and once a month they placed offerings of food at crossroads, where her influence was strongest.

Hecate is most often portrayed as the goddess of witchcraft or evil, but she did some very good things in her time. One such deed was when she helped to rescue Persephone (Demeter's daughter, the queen of the Underworld and the maiden of spring), from the Underworld. She eventually became Persephone's attendant in the Underworld, once Persephone married Hades. Hecate is said to haunt a three-way crossroad, each of her heads facing in a certain direction and appears when the ebony moon shines.

The following is from The Book of Demons
by Victoria Hyatt & Joseph W. Charles

The Greeks often called Hecate, Agriope, which means 'savage face.' She is said to have three faces, which symbolized her powers over the underworld, earth, and air. She is known as the lady of the underworld, of chthonic rites, and of black magic.

Her Hebrew name was Sheol, and the Egyptians knew her as Nepthys. She was the daughter of the titan Perses and of Asteria, although sometimes it is said that Zeus himself fathered her. The Thracians were the first people to worship her in the moon-goddess aspect, though soon her worship spread to the Greeks, who linked her with the moon-goddesses Artemis and Selene. She was also associated with Lucina and Diana. At times she was benign and motherly and would act as midwife, wet-nurse, and foster-mother, while keeping an eye on flocks and crops. Greek kings asked for her help in administering justice, knowing that with Hecate on their side they would attain victory and glory in battle.

But the other side of her nature, most apparent when the moon was dark, gradually superseded her kinder side. Although Homer did not mention her in his poems, by the time Hesiod was chronicling the events of his world, her powers were already very great. She had become an infernal deity, a snake goddess with three heads: a dog's, a horse's, and a lion's. She was portrayed with her three bodies, back to back, carrying a spear, a sacrificial cup, and a torch.

Having witnessed the rape of Persephone, torch-beasing Hecate was sent by Zeus to help Demeter find her. When they found Persephone in Hades, Hecate remained there as her companion. During her stay in the underworld, Hecate wore a single brazen sandal, and she was the protector and teacher of sorceresses and enchanters. Her high priestess was Medea, who was worthy of her mistress, and cruelly murdered her own two children after her husband left her for another woman.

Hecate's influence was long lasting, and the medieval witches worshipped the willow tree which was sacred to her. The same root word which gave 'willow' and 'wicker,' also gave 'witch' and 'wicked.'

Thus Hecate became key-holder of hell and queen of the departed, dispatching phantoms from the underworld. At night she left Hades and would roam on earth, bringing terror to the hearts of those who heard her approach. She was accompanied by her bounds and by the bleak souls of the dead. She appeared as a gigantic woman bearing a sword and a torch, her feet and hair bristling with snakes, her voice like that of a howling dog. Her favourite nocturnal retreat was near a lake called Amaramtiam Phasis, 'the lake of murders.'

To placate her, the people erected statues at crossroads. There, under the full moon, feasts called 'Hecate's suppers' were served. Dogs, eggs, honey, milk, and particularly black ewes were sacrificed at that time. The most powerful magic incantations of antiquity were connected with Hecate, and her rites were described at length by Apollonius Rhodus in his Argonautica:

'...and he kindled the logs, placing the fire beneath, and poured over them the mingled libations, calling on Hecate Brimo to aid him in the contest, And when he had called on her he drew back: and she heard him, the dreaded goddess, from the uttermost depths and came to the sacrifice of Aeson's son; and round her horrible serpents twined themselves among the oak boughs; and there was the gleam of countless torches; and sharply howled around her the hounds of hell. All the meadows trembled at her step, and the nymphs that haunt the marsh and the river shrieked, all who dance round that meadow of Amarantiam Phasis.'

In one of her incarnations she was Hucuba, the wife of Priam, King of Troy, and mother of Cassandra, Hector, Helenus, and Paris. While pregnant with Paris, she had a dream in which she gave birth to a flaming torch which consumed Troy. Understanding the awesome foreboding of this omen, she left the infant exposed on Mount Ida. But the Fates had ordained differently, and years later Paris returned to Troy, bringing with him the war that was to be the end of that great city.

When Polymnestor, a Thracian king, murdered her son Polydorus, her vengeance was terrible: she slew Polymnestor's two children and gouged his eyes out. Although acquitted by the Greeks, she was changed into a dog at which the Thracians threw stones. Trying to escape her punishment, she jumped into the sea at Cynossema, which in translation means 'tomb of the dog.'

Hecate, powerful in heaven, earth and hell, possessed all the great dark knowledge, and is rightfully called the mother of witches. She was the great goddess of magic, and she outstripped Circe, her daughter, in importance. Yet another of her daughters also achieved hellish fame:

'...and let them not fall in their helplessness into Charybdis lest she swallow them at one gulp, or approach the hideous lair of Scylla, Ausonian Scylla, Scylla the deadly, whom night-wandering Hecate, who is called Crataeis, bare to Phorcys...'

The extent of her powers can be judged by the great numbers of animals, plants and emblems that were sacred to her. Weasels were her attendants. So were owls in their silent flight, with the carrion-smell of their nests and their eyes shining in the dark. Hound, knife, lotus, rope, and sword are other emblems of Hecate. Shakespeare knew that hemlock and the yew tree were sacred to her. In Macbeth, 'slips of yew sliver'd in the Moon's eclipse' were contained in the witches' cauldron. The yew, sacred to the goddess of the underworld, still grows in cemeteries.

The following is used by kind permission of

Hecate is a very special goddess. Reigning over the powers of sorcery, witchcraft, enchantment, black magic, fertility, death, the crossroads, and renewal. According to some sources, she is one of the Furies, to others, she was the last surviving Titan except for Zeus, still others, and she was merely descended from the Titans, Asteria and Perses. Not only has she been vastly misrepresented over time, but she continues to live on today as a deity to some groups of people, namely pagan and wiccan in belief, who look upon her in an altered modern sense as the Great Mother.

Watcher over the crossroads, Hecate usually is shown holding two huge torches to light the way and direct, Hecate represents a coming together of three at a point. The crossroads which she guards have a past, a present, and a future. Where will you go, where have you been, where are you now? The crossroads can also represent her domains of the sky, land, and the underworld. In addition the crossroads were looked at as a ghostly place at night.

The Athenians were especially respectful towards Hecate, and once a month they placed food offerings at the crossroads, where her influence was said to be felt. Her aspect of threes is also noted when she is sometimes referred to as a triple goddess.

These three goddesses include, Persephone, Demeter, and Hecate. Demeter represents the old crone woman, Persephone the wife woman, and Hecate is the Maiden. It is said that Hecate was the only one watching when Hades kidnapped Persephone into the great underworld, and that it was Hecate that supplied her with the seeds of the pomegranate.

Why is Hecate always portrayed as a dark, evil, malevolent witch? Today she is the crone, the hag, the worker of evil curses. This is not known very well, for most of Hecate's myths were related orally, but before Homer, Hecate was regarded as benign. She helped with agriculture and gave life to dying crops. During the day she was supposed to have a benign influence on farming, but during the hours of darkness she was interested in witchcraft, ghosts, and tombs. In ample ways she was similar to the vegetation goddess Demeter/Ceres. Hecate uncomfortably combined fertility with death as a power of the earth. Perhaps this is the beginning of her association with the dead.

Also, in Mytilene on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea, near the assumed location of Troy, there were Temples of Demeter, where the women would go to an annual festival called Eleusis (without their husbands, who would sometimes dress up as women from excessive curiosity as to the goings on) to celebrate fertility rituals for the annual renewal of crops and their success for the next year.

Altars abounded and much evidence of black magic has been uncovered there. Thick nails would be driven into the ground or the altar, piercing through a piece of parchment rolled into a flattened tube, on which was written the name of someone they wanted cursed. Most commonly the names were senators and political leaders. They would invoke Hecate upon the cursing, and the flames would consume the nail and the cursed victim's name.

However, the combination of the three goddesses produced hordes of mystery cults, some at Aegina and Lerna, where they would initiate women during ceremonies held. Hecate was also invoked by Dido, in the fourth book of the Aeneid. She built a huge funeral pyre to commit suicide and at the same time curse the Trojans on her voyage and Aeneas for leaving her heartbroken. In doing so, she called upon the goddess Hecate before she flung herself upon her dagger. Her curse was effective in the fact that not only did the Trojans wander around for many years, when they finally got to Rome, and began fighting, Aeneas was killed.

The witch Medea of Colchis, enchantress and lover of Jason from the Argonauts, called upon Hecate to get revenge against him for his rejection of her. Regarded as a witch and a seductress, Medea called herself a daughter of Hecate, and invoked her mother for success in her magickal arts. Another goddess closely associated with Hecate worship is Circe, the lover of Odysseus.

Likewise, Aeneas travelled down to the underworld in Book 6 of the Aeneid with the Sibyl of Cumae. Hecate took Sibyl and showed her all the punishments in Tartarus, and taught her everything. Hecate gave Sibyl the power to control and take care of the Avernus Wood, the passageway to the entrance of the underworld. To gain acceptance in for Aeneas, Sibyl sacrificed four black bullocks to Hecate. Afterwards Sibyl and Aeneas progressed through the entrance and across the Styx.



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